Then It Was Gone. Several people posted comments about our story that noted one name was missing from the Nobel roster: Her data were critical to Crick and Watson's work. But it turns out that Franklin would not have been eligible for the prize—she had passed away four years before Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the prize, and the Nobel is never awarded posthumously.
But even if she had been alive, she may still have been overlooked. Like many women scientists, Franklin was robbed of recognition throughout her career See her section below for details. Here are six female researchers who did groundbreaking work—and whose names are likely unfamiliar for one reason: Pulsars are the remnants of massive stars that went supernova.
Their very existence demonstrates that these giants didn't blow themselves into oblivion—instead, they left behind small, incredibly dense, rotating stars. The snub generated a "wave of sympathy" for Bell Burnell. But in an interview with National Geographic News this month, the astronomer was fairly matter-of-fact. But despite the sympathy, and her groundbreaking work, Bell Burnell said she was still subject to the prevailing attitudes toward women in academia.
Many of the positions the astrophysicist was offered in her career were focused on teaching or administrative and management duties. She has since become quite "protective" of women in academia. Some individual schools may give them support, but Bell Burnell wants a systemic approach to boost the numbers of female researchers. Learn more about Bell Burnell. Esther Lederberg Born in in the Bronx, Esther Lederberg would grow up to lay the groundwork for future discoveries on genetic inheritance in bacteria, gene regulation, and genetic recombination.
A microbiologist, she is perhaps best known for discovering a virus that infects bacteria —called the lambda bacteriophage—in , while at the University of Wisconsin. Lederberg, along with her first husband Joshua Lederberg, also developed a way to easily transfer bacterial colonies from one petri dish to another, called replica plating, which enabled the study of antibiotic resistance.
The Lederberg method is still in use today. But she didn't receive it. She was not alone. Women were treated badly in academia in those days. The law holds that in quantum mechanics, two physical systems—like atoms—that were mirror images would behave in identical ways. Wu's experiments using cobalt , a radioactive form of the cobalt metal, upended this law, which had been accepted for 30 years. Pnina Abir-Am , a historian of science at Brandeis University, agreed, adding that ethnicity also played a role.
Wu died of a stroke in in New York. Lise Meitner Born in Vienna, Austria, in , Lise Meitner's work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission —the fact that atomic nuclei can split in two. That finding laid the groundwork for the atomic bomb. Her story is a complicated tangle of sexism, politics, and ethnicity.
After finishing her doctoral degree in physics at the University of Vienna, Meitner moved to Berlin in and started collaborating with chemist Otto Hahn. They maintained their working relationship for more than 30 years. She continued to work with Hahn, corresponding and meeting secretly in Copenhagen in November of that year.
Although Hahn performed the experiments that produced the evidence supporting the idea of nuclear fission, he was unable to come up with an explanation.
Meitner and her nephew, Otto Frisch, came up with the theory. The other contributing factor to the neglect of Meitner's work was her gender. Meitner once wrote to a friend that it was almost a crime to be a woman in Sweden.
A researcher on the Nobel physics committee actively tried to shut her out. So Hahn alone won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his contributions to splitting the atom. But since her name wasn't on that initial paper with Hahn—and she was left off the Nobel Prize recognizing the discovery—over the years, she has not been associated with the finding.
The nuclear physicist died in in Cambridge, England. Learn more about Meitner's career. Hers is perhaps one of the most well-known—and shameful—instances of a researcher being robbed of credit, said Lewin Sime.
Franklin graduated with a doctorate in physical chemistry from Cambridge University in , then spent three years at an institute in Paris where she learned x-ray diffraction techniques, or the ability to determine the molecular structures of crystals.
Learn more about her education and qualifications. She returned to England in as a research associate in John Randall's laboratory at King's College in London and soon encountered Maurice Wilkins, who was leading his own research group studying the structure of DNA. Franklin and Wilkins worked on separate DNA projects, but by some accounts , Wilkins mistook Franklin's role in Randall's lab as that of an assistant rather than head of her own project. They communicated with Wilkins, who at some point showed them Franklin's image of DNA —known as Photo 51—without her knowledge.
Franklin also published in the same issue, providing further details on DNA's structure. Franklin's image of the DNA molecule was key to deciphering its structure, but only Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work.
Franklin died of ovarian cancer in in London, four years before Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received the Nobel. Since Nobel prizes aren't awarded posthumously, we'll never know whether Franklin would have received a share in the prize for her work.
Learn more about Franklin and Photo Nettie Stevens Born in in Vermont, Nettie Stevens performed studies crucial in determining that an organism's sex was dictated by its chromosomes rather than environmental or other factors.
After receiving her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Stevens continued at the college as a researcher studying sex determination.
By working on mealworms , she was able to deduce that the males produced sperm with X and Y chromosomes—the sex chromosomes—and that females produced reproductive cells with only X chromosomes. This was evidence supporting the theory that sex determination is directed by an organism's genetics.
A fellow researcher, named Edmund Wilson, is said to have done similar work, but came to the same conclusion later than Stevens did. Thomas Hunt Morgan , a prominent geneticist at the time, is often credited with discovering the genetic basis for sex determination, said Pomona College's Hoopes.
He was the first to write a genetics textbook, she noted, and he wanted to magnify his contributions. And so Stevens' name was not associated with the discovery of sex determination. Hoopes has no doubt that Morgan was indebted to Stevens. He was asking her for details of her experiments.
Who would you add to this list of female researchers who did not get the credit they deserved for their work?